Professor Olinga Ta’eed PhD FIoD
Director — Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance
1. Description of a Blockchain World
There is only one thing that the world has in common outside the essentials of food, water, air and heat. We do not agree on values, what is love, or music. Even our attitude towards spirituality, religion, has historically been both unifying and divisive. It is our intangible values that sometimes escalate to wars and killing our fellow man. Sadly, however, tangible assets including money is the only things that is used universally, accepted, and agreed whether in New York or Shanghai, in the middle of the Gobi desert or dealing with your neighbour. We all understand the value of assets, benchmark ourselves and other things with it, and have a sophisticated ways to trade on items based on financial value whether through bartering or using tokens of currency.
When remodelling our interactions and visioning the new world order, why not start with something we can all agree on, and build up from there?
I can see the rolling of eyes and shaking of heads; a new vision of the world built on the worst possible instrument of materiality and lowest common denominator of mankind? The very thing that is blamed daily for the ruin of the world. Money. Representing greed, hedonism, selfish and self-centric behaviours that are universally considered vile and demonised in the press. Hardly in line with what society needs to promote — love, happiness, kindness and transparency. The idea of money to unify the world seems ridiculous and out of step with the positive direction we are heading. But what if money, the universally accepted mediator across mankind, can be injected with values that can be exchanged just as easily as currency? A world where hard tangible financial value and soft non-financial value are interchanged seamlessly and a world build capturing all values inherent within society wherever it may lie or extreme it may be. A circular economy trading value built on our values.
So how can money be injected with values? It already does. Would you accept US$ 5,000 for your shirt if it’s paid in KKK Coins? It may offend your values, or you simply think that since you do not associate with the Klu Klux Klan, where could you spend the currency? Currency carries both a financial value and represents values attributed towards a community, a set of beliefs, or alignment of values. Perhaps you can spend it with those who share similar values, who possess Trump Coins. What it does is to create a circular economy based on total value, both financial and non-financial value, and the exchange rate or desirability will be dependent on the demand that a vibrant, transactional and cohesive community creates. Fair or not, abhorrent or not, giving voice to those whose values are repulsive to the rest, a new system of currency that encapsulated all our values is equitable and transparent. We will fight in the exchanges, not in the streets, and we give value to all mankind not artificially censor those who we prefer to supress however unpalatable this may seem. It is democracy built on a common fiscal platform following thousands of years of maturation.
The solution is at the centre of the burgeoning 4th Industrial Revolution where Fintech meets Socialtech. The technology is called ‘Blockchain’ and touted as a panacea for all world problems, it nevertheless has some features that truly “smell of teen spirit” — decentralization, democratization, distributed governance and anti-authority. More importantly, the movement of these ‘blocks’ of digital value can carry a vote, a governance layer giving currency the power of consensus. They can integrate smart contracts that determine a transaction of value dependent on third party values. Finally, they can move any kind of value — both financial and nonfinancial — digitally, at a fraction of the cost of existing legacy systems with instantaneous efficiency. Blockchain is promising truly ground breaking evolutions in Humtech, Faithtech, Gendertech, Edutech and many transformative solutions. These articulate through cryptocurrencies which are values based — Women’s Coin, City Coin, EduCoins, Islamic Coin, Leadership Coin, Water Coins, Care Givers Coins, Fashion Coins, Enviro Coins … contributing to a family of United Nation’s 17 SDG Coins (Sustainable Development Goals) representing us all.
Let’s imagine a world where we all hold multiple coins representing the rainbow of our values and the degree with which we align with different communities.
The importance is reflected on how ready we are to exchange our coins for products and services. Whilst the financial value within the SDG family of coins are the same, the non-financial tokens of value are different. The latter is a microshare of provenance of ourselves, products, organisations, projects and processes — which can be earned, exchanged and spent dependent on the degree to which we fulfil the values we ascribe to. In future, the exchange rate between families of coins determines the veracity, passion and demand for those beliefs benchmarked against each other. After all, what is the use of holding an ISIS Coin if it’s unaccepted in most retail outlets, but equally minority rights are safeguarded as they can champion their own values and spend it within their own communities irrespective of adoption by others. Evolutionary market forces determine what values survive, what grows, and which values becomes extinct over time.
The reliance is not on fickle regulations, untrusted judiciary, size of our armies, interpretations, aggression or force, votes, politics, economic strength, or subterfuge. The dependence is entirely on our values, and the belief that positive attributes will rise naturally to the fore and less mainstreamed values will find their natural equilibrium in the grander schema.
Bad people can do good, good people can do bad, nevertheless all our values need to be recognised, transacted and tested.
We all know the currency of financial value, but what is the currency of non-financial value? At last, we have a means to capture that, and to articulate intangible values as robustly as we have learnt to do with hard assets, in order to build a better world but based on reliable and time served systems.
2. Historical Antecedents
Back in 2008 either one person or a group of people operating under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto released a financial token called the Bitcoin. It was a repartee to the invading territorial gathering of power by governments who increasingly want to introduce intrusive regulatory frameworks as part of check and balances to protect citizens, but equally offer a stealth growth of privacy hacks. Banks rode on the back of this wave to create a strangle hold on financial transactions that demanded higher fees as Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and other regulatory frameworks were introduced by SEC (USA) and FCA (UK) amongst others. Bitcoin thus represented an anti-authority, anti ‘The Man’, movement using decentralized and distributed models of information control with a strong democratisation agenda.
The anonymous feature of transactions also led to widespread use for illegal uses along the Silk Road including drugs, arms and now ransomware. Naturally the sex industry picked it up and we already have a variety of entertaining titles like Tit Coin, TittieCoin and even an Anal Coin providing hidden purchasing to everyday man who doesn’t have a Swiss Bank account, Cayman Island or BVR access. BitCoin now has a market capitalization of c. US$ 53 billion, rising upwards rapidly, and is seemingly unstoppable by governments or banking who have moved into regulatory or ‘if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them’ mode.
Soon people started to look past bitcoin and to examine the technology behind it — blockchain. The underlying feature set of one of the main accepted digital assets called Ethereum speaks volumes. Basically there are 4 layers.
- Data layer — the asset being transacted
- Protocol layer — the means of digital negotiation
- Smart contract — a codified ‘if this then do that’ rule set
- Governance layer — the 51% holders of the token can vote where to go next
As the transactions can be immutably recorded in a public ledger it implies transparency. You cannot see who sent the money/asset, nor who received it, but you can see a time-date-stamp and amount. This has led to a raft of permission-less and permissioned Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) type applications. The key enablers of blockchain are:
- TRANSACT: Enable to transact financial and non-financial assets digitally, efficiently and without a central authority
- PROVENANCE: Enable to track and record provenance of people, organisations, products, projects and processes immutably
- VOICE: Enable to empower and give voice to individuals with a vote, a microshare, and be part of the governance and future benefits
The uses for blockchain can be mapped, as ever, to what kind of person you are — and all bring value to the debate
a) The Pragmatist (faster and cheaper): Ask any expert what the revolution will bring, and they inevitably point to the social space, immediately followed by a “however, here in banking” statement. Although the world is not screaming out for ‘faster and cheaper’ … banking, invoices, logistics, car purchasing, etc … the fact is that the movement of hard assets are much easier to transact than soft assets. The former applications are centred around greater efficiency to existing markets and whilst interesting are rarely ground-breaking. Nevertheless, they will leading to incremental sector progress and are most likely to last past the era of blockchain hype and noise.
The madness and promise that blockchain represents is often likened to the early days of the internet when it took time for the bubble to burst and adoption of real uses. The internet is based on a universally adopted single TCP/IP communications protocol that allows for interoptability of all things based on it, from the world wide web, to data transfer, to communications. Sadly there is not one blockchain but a multitude of formats and standards (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Hyperledger, Interledger, Skyledger, etc) and even the two most widely adopted blockchains have split in the last 12 months. Ethereum is now ETH and ETC (Classic, 30th July 2016), and BitCoin now comes in two flavours — BTC and BTC Cash (1st August 2017). This makes scaling and mass adoption very difficult as the sector is in a period of infancy. Couple this with a relatively immature and inexperienced set of actors adds to the unpredictability. Regulators are behind the curve with SEC (USA) only now having made a statement on 25th July 2017, and FCA (UK) no where near yet — even exchanges aren’t regulated for Anti-Money-Laundering (AML) until 2018. Having said this, just as with the early days of any tech driven transformation like mobile phones, video players, etc we will eventually settle with more stable platform, agreed protocols, and a regulatory framework. Blockchain is here to stay, so let’s now settle down and focus on how to use it.
This heavy mix of people, technology, vision and perhaps above all hope, has created some truly novel secondary instruments.
o The Initial Coin Offering (The ICO) — Not IPO (Initial Public Offering), but a corollary which has already surpassed any previous crowd funding financing initiatives. Although some 70–80% of these are dubious in nature with no real substance, the instrument itself is undeniably brilliant raising US$ 500 million in just 3 of the ICO’s in June 2017, some completing in 30 minutes when they expected 6 weeks.
o The Distributed Autonomous Organisation (The DAO) — no board, no directors, no company, no staff, no building but using the Smart Contract to manage decisions and investments of funds raised. Although the first application of this in May 2016 was a disaster, when 3 months later half of the US$ 150m proceeds being legitimately ‘stolen’ due to a code defect, nevertheless the concept of having a virtual organisation with governance intrinsic to the fabric is truly a breath of fresh air.
o The Citizen Ownership (The Fork) — the Personal Data movement describes the powers that owning your own data can bring without intervening governance being required to speak for us. Brexit (UK), Trump (USA), Five Star (Italy), etc are all signs of a disenchanted world where people power determines the direction of much larger institutions. At a community level it’s the democratization that can abruptly fork directions of travel and lead to polarisation. At an individual level, you can decide who you share you data with, and for how much and to what extent.
o The Non-Financial Token (The Microshare) — As cryptocurrency is to the tangible financial value, the microshare is to intangible non-financial value. This token represents the digitisation of non-financial value, the turning of sentiment into financial value, and can be undertaken using Fast Data. You can transact love, goodness, health and other soft assets using blockchain like any other hard asset. It represents, of course, a radical departure from what we now understand by value, and is a glide path to transacting Total Value, not just financial.
3. Transacting Goodness as Instruments of Change
To create an artefact of a new world order needs a scalable and sustainable Circular Economy that transacts these new instruments seamlessly whether they are based in Fintech, HumTech, SocialTech, GenderTech, FaithTech … or any other solution. Envisage a world where you are born automatically registering your DNA on a blockchain which becomes your Digital ID whether banked or unbanked. You then use your ID to buy things, build trust, make retail choices, vote, have a voice … all operating within their own nested blockchains. You can volunteer and get credited with social coins, go to Starbucks and pay for your US$ 10 drink with US$ 8 cash and US$ 2 social credit. Go down Google Street and make retail outlet choices dependent on the ethical practices of the organisation (Walmart .v. Little House on the Prairie grocer); or products dependent on the slavery conditions of supply (sweat shop with slavery conditions or happy children milking happy cows in a happy field). You can pay and be paid in the currencies you have aligned to the values you believe in. Our values will represent the ultimate currency of non-financial value which we can trade with and utilise as an instrument of power just as money has done for hundreds of years.
Through blockchain goodness can be transacted, and ‘cryptocurrencies with values’ are the instrument of change. Our strength will be based on communities of shares values which sometimes be bordered by our patriotism (eg. FIAT currencies issued by a country), or be borderless in an increasingly blended society whilst still giving respect to minority voices who do not share our values. We all have multiple values and so hold multiple coins — Women’s Coin, Edu Coin, City Coin, Islam Coin, Leadership Coin … paying with one or another is promulgating our values and allegiances whilst acknowledging the debt. Our alignment will become a currency of its own, a microshare (token) of ourselves, which may have no financial benefit but carry the same gravitas and weight. One day, those microshares may even be interchangeable for regular FIAT currencies with their own exchange rates. Brands can reward in microshares, and part pay in Coco Cola Coin to their suppliers to ensure their values extend beyond their organisation. Families of values, such as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goas, can have branded currencies which are entirely interchangeable in terms of financial value but differ in their terms of their impact targets. Perhaps more importantly, impact and financing of them can be inter-linked to ensure the former is a condition of the latter.
This acknowledging, accepting, rewarding and trading in a values based society is key to shift our paradigms from a financial footing to a more balanced approach. The greater the generosity of enlightenment from sharing our values with each other, giving insight into each other’s alignment, the less likely it is to rage against each other. We do not want to eradicate the governance systems and financial structures upon which our world is built, but want to turn these swords that control all around us into ploughshares that do good for mankind.
“He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” — [Isaiah 2:4]
The concept of a ‘microshare’, a token of non-financial value, has wide reaching implications. It can be a microshare of ourselves, our Personal Value, that we are dealing with and transacting with others; perhaps someone impacted meaningfully in our lives and we wish to recognise it in the future. It can be a microshare of a community of practice or belief, playing our part with votes in the larger entity who share our values. We can have a microshare of an organisation, rewarded for volunteering for projects attributed or aligned to that organisation, or for even being a customer like a Loyalty Card. It is empowering the single voice to have collective strength across our locality, our cities, our regions, our countries and our continents. It is rewarding each other for being good, and being able to spend that goodness for ourselves or for others aligned to our views. It is exporting our values to others and allowing them to face up to the values we share. Together, it gives us collective bargaining, as any large financial institution would have. A seat at the top table for us individually.
4. Transition Not Dismantling
Why blockchain appears to have gained traction is the relative ease with which it uses existing infrastructures and can co-exist alongside legacy systems. Not all would agree with this approach. Social Innovators are usually left wing radicals who believe in dismantling the system often in the most disruptive way possible, tearing down structures seeing little benefit in supporting ‘Last Thursday’ ideologies. Humanitarians, however, are right wing conservatives who want to leave the smallest possible footprint due to their interventions, operate ‘hic-et-nunc’ style and are resigned to repeat the same the following year. The latter may well be the destination glide path for such solutions, ie. to build on existing systems as a layer on top. They use existing government legislative frameworks, conform to regulatory controls, and perhaps at best push the envelope at the margins to begin with. Like Uber, you can push against the system but the powers of SEC are all encompassing, regulators have international reach, and not to be toyed with. In contrast, one should not underestimate the resolve of the blockchain enthusiast to circumnavigate the system as the de-establishment rhetoric is strong and persuasive in the current climate where even the World Economic Forum’s Davos is now considered merely an extension of corporate reach.
Structures that can manage these transitions are invariably foundations, such as the Ethereum Foundation, that curate the birth of such ideologies. Almost all substantive cryptocurrencies have copied this format. The latest — the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance (CCEG), is a not-for-profit think tank that is issuing the Seratio token compliant to UK regulatory frameworks. The unique feature of the Seratio token is the transactional ability to capture the financial assets, microshares and provenance of involving people, products, processes, projects and organisations. It is being effectively marketed as the ‘Ethereum UK’ adhering to best practice treasury management to ensure random Quantitative Easing does not dilute the offering. Being launched into the market in September 2017, alongside a large number of inter-optable prodigy currencies, together they form a circular economy eco-system, with each coin representing a vibrant, transactional, cohesive group that articulate their values through their own currency.
Over the first 36 months CCEG effectively writes itself out of the picture by removing any dependencies on itself during a handover to a DAO. The new body will take on the role of a Card Scheme (UK) or Card Association (USA) — like MasterCard, Visa, Amex, Diners, etc guaranteeing settlement irrespective of what cryptocurrency is being traded but this time focused solely on Cryptocurrencies with Values. Remarkably, none of the existing cryptocurrencies have this interchange feature and have no ‘Assured-Coin’ guaranteed settlement branding. At present you simply cannot take a Vegan Coin and buy stuff from someone who retails using Solar Coin. Although one imagines the values are not too dissimilar, this lack of infrastructure is currently holding back momentum of blockchain in one place as opposed to being dissipated across a series of offerings. Exactly the same, but perhaps less so, goes for non-financial blockchain applications as standardisation is far from mature. The latter can communicate with each other via API’s (application protocol interfaces), but cryptocurrencies cannot unless they adhere to the same protocols.
I think by 2030, when the UN SDG targets are set to be achieved, blockchain will be as common as the internet is today.
That is my hope, it is my ambition, but above all, it is my greatest wish that it leads to a more transparent and harmonious world.
More transparent and harmonious world is awaiting us